Monday, June 21, 2010

Taiwanese Traditions: The Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat festival is held each year on May 5 of the Lunar Calendar. This year May 5 (lunar) was June 16. The lunar calendar is made up of fewer days than the solar calendar, which we use, so the date changes from year to year. This year it happened to be June 16. The name of the Holiday in Chinese is Duanwu Jie (Dwanwoo jeeuh). The name literally means double fifth festival (as in 5/5 May 5). The festival celebrates the life and death of Quan Yu a scholar and poet.

The Legend

Quan Yu was a scholar who served in the government of the King of Chu in approximately 300 B.C. He was a loyal subject and minister to the King for many years. He had great favor because of his faithfulness, but because of the favor he had with the king the others in the government began to plot to rid themselves of this man. So they trumped up a charge of conspiracy against the king. The king bought into the conspiracy charge and had Quan Yu removed from his position in the government and exiled from his homeland. As you may imagine this caused a bit of distress for Quan Yu. He used his talent for poetry to write a number of angry poems about his exile, the damage to his reputation, the loss of his homeland and the people of that homeland. Finally, in a state of depression, in the year 278 B.C. at the age of 37, he threw himself into the river with a huge boulder clasped to his chest and drowned.

The local people, recognizing his righteousness, ran to the river to find him. They took out Dragon Boats to search for him under the river. They also threw a type of Rice Dumpling, called Zong zi into the water so the fish would feed on these rather than Quan Yu’s body.

The Modern Holiday

Currently, in Taiwan The Dragon Boat festival is celebrated by racing Dragon Boats. Teams from around the world converge on Taiwan and China for the annual races. This year the 1st place team in Taipei was from the Philippines. The race was held in the River that dissects Taipei.

People also prepare and eat Zong zi. In China they still throw Zong zi into the river, as well. But the people of Taiwan don’t do that. The Zong zi is prepared and eaten by the people. Zong zi changes a little by location, but most contain Pork, S\spices, herbs and Chestnuts covered by sticky rice and wrapped in Palm leaves. One family in the church brought Zong zi to the church's weekly fellowship. They were made in the Hua Lien tradition. (That is they were made as they are made in the city of Hua Lien) They were delicious.

The Zong zi is a dumpling that is made into the shape of a pyramid, in folded palm leaves. Often you find them hanging. One day last week, it was raining so hard that we took shelter. in the traditional market and I found myself sitting in the company of an elderly Taiwanese woman who had prepared Zong zi. I bought a couple from her and enjoyed them when I got home. Zong zi are everywhere during the run up to the Dragon Boat festival. You often see them hanging in clusters in the Traditional market

Not just for Duanwu Anymore

The eating of Zong zi is no longer confined to the holiday. Taiwanese people eat them throughout the year, but they are still the traditional food of the Duanwu Jie.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese Valentines Day
Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month
Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese New Year:  The Legend of Nian

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